Ernest Dichter

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Ernest Dichter (14 August 1907 – 21 November 1991) was an American psychologist and marketing expert known as the "father of motivational research." Dichter pioneered the application of Freudian psychoanalytic concepts and techniques to business — in particular to the study of consumer behavior in the marketplace. Ideas he established were a significant influence on the practices of the advertising industry in the twentieth century. Dichter promised the "mobilisation and manipulation of human needs as they exist in the consumer". As America entered the 1950s, the decade of heightened commodity fetishism, Dichter offered consumers moral permission to embrace sex and consumption, and forged a philosophy of corporate hedonism, which he thought would make people immune to dangerous totalitarian ideas.[1]

According to a New York Times article in 1998, he "was the first to coin the term focus group and to stress the importance of image and persuasion in advertising". In Vance Packard's book on Dichter and his practices, he recalls meeting Dichter in his castle and finding children watching televisions while resident psychologists, crouching behind special screens secretly filmed and studied their every action so that they could inform advertisers how to manipulate their unconscious minds. Dichter called such focus groups his "living laboratory". One such session led to the invention of the Barbie Doll: "What they wanted was someone sexy looking, someone that they wanted to grow up to be like," Dichter reported, "Long legs, big breasts, glamorous." To Packard, Dichter's gothic mansion was a sinister factory that manufactured and implanted self-destructive desires.[2]


Dichter was born to Jewish family[3] on 14 August 1907 in Vienna, and received his doctorate from the University of Vienna in 1934 and moved with his wife, Hedy Langfelder, to New York in 1938.[4]

In 1939 he sent out a cover letter describing himself as: "a young psychologist from Vienna ... with some interesting new ideas which can help you be more successful, effective, sell more and communicate better."[5]

In 1946 he founded the Institute for Motivational Research in Croton-on-Hudson, New York, later named Ernest Dichter and Associates and moved to his home in Peekskill. [6] and in the succeeding years founded similar institutes in Switzerland and Germany. He died on 21 November 1991 in Peekskill, New York.


Dichter authored 17 books, including:

  • The Handbook of Consumer Motivations
  • Motivating Human Behavior
  • The Naked Manager
  • Packaging, the Sixth Sense?: a guide to identifying consumer motivation
  • Total Self-Knowledge
  • Getting Motivated
  • The Strategy of Desire
  • How Hot a Manager Are You?
  • Marketing Plus: finding the hidden gold in the market place

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Turner, Christopher (2012). "The Hidden Persuader". Cabinet. 44. 
  2. ^ Packard, Vance (1956). The Hidden Persuaders. 
  3. ^ Jewish Virtual Library: "Modern Jewish History: Advertising" retrieved May 4, 2017
  4. ^ Schwarzkopf, Stefan; Gries, Rainer, eds. (2010). Ernest Dichter and Motivation Research: New Perspectives on the Making of Post-war Consumer Culture. London: Palgrave Macmillan. p. 4. ISBN 978-0-230-53799-6. 
  5. ^ "Retail therapy. How Ernest Dichter, an acolyte of Sigmund Freud, revolutionised marketing". The Economist. December 17, 2011. Retrieved 2012-01-01. In 1939 he wrote to six big American companies, introducing himself as 'a young psychologist ... 
  6. ^ Jones, D.G.B. and Tadajewski, M., (eds), The Routledge Companion to Marketing History, Oxon, Routledge, 2016, p. 72

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